RAHEEM Sterling capped a memorable week by providing the decisive strike to get England off to a winning start at Euro 2020.

Fresh from becoming an MBE on Friday, largely for his actions off the field, Sterling scored the only goal of the contest as England edged past Croatia at Wembley Stadium, slotting home after fine work from the impressive Kalvin Phillips, 12 minutes into the second half.

After a strong start from the Three Lions, chances were largely at a premium throughout the contest, but Sterling’s 15th goal for his country was enough to earn the 1-0 win to kick off the Group D campaign in style.

England return to action on Friday evening, hosting Scotland.

Gareth Southgate opted for a back four to start the group opener. Kieran Trippier lined up on the left, while Tyrone Mings kept his spot in the centre alongside John Stones, with Harry Maguire not deemed fit enough to make the matchday squad.

Jack Grealish had to settle for a spot on the bench, despite impressing in recent friendlies, with Premier League-winning duo Sterling and Phil Foden preferred on the flanks.

Croatia named six players in their starting XI who lined up in the World Cup final three years ago, with former Tottenham man Luka Modric captaining the side.

It was England, playing a tournament match at Wembley for the first time in 25 years, who made the strong start, coming within inches of taking an early lead.

Sterling led a break before slotting the ball through to club-mate Foden. The 21-year-old cut inside onto his favoured left foot and curled towards the bottom corner, but saw his shot bounce back off the post with goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic beaten.

England came close again before the game had reached the 10-minute mark. A corner from Mason Mount was cleared out as far as Phillips, who did well to control his volley, keeping it low and firing it through a crowd of bodies. However, Livakovic did enough to shovel the effort away before the ball was cleared.

That sparked an impressive first-half display from Leeds United midfielder Phillips, but chances dried up for both sides in the sweltering London heat. The best move from Croatia came just before the half-hour mark, with Inter Milan star Ivan Perisic slicing his shot well wide.

Neither manager made any switches at half-time and it took almost 10 minutes for the first shot in anger of the second period. Modric lined one up from 25 yards, but it was comfortable for keeper Jordan Pickford.

But from England’s first meaningful attack of the half, they carved out the lead. A patient spell of possession eventually led to a killer through ball from Kyle Walker to Phillips, who picked out Sterling breaking through the centre. The Manchester City man made no mistake one-on-one, forcing his shot past Livakovic, despite pressure from defender Sime Vrsaljko.

And the hosts so nearly added a second in quick succession as Mount teased a cross to the back post for Harry Kane, but he could not convert, instead colliding with the woodwork himself as Domagoj Vida slid in.

Croatia responded, but England’s defence did enough before Ante Rebic dragged a shot wide, while Mount was narrowly off target from a free-kick for the Three Lions.

Both managers turned to their respective benches as the game entered its final quarter. Nikola Vlasic and Josip Brekalo came on for Croatia, while Southgate introduced Marcus Rashford in place of Foden.

Sterling’s eyes lit up on 74 minutes, when a long free-kick into the box fell for the winger, but after measuring up the shot, he blazed over the bar left-footed.

But the 26-year-old’s earlier strike was sufficient to ensure England got off to a winning start.

England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Mings, Trippier; Phillips, Rice; Foden (Rashford, 71), Mount, Sterling (Calvert-Lewin, 90+2); Kane (Bellingham, 82).

Unused subs: James, White, Shaw, Coady, J Henderson, Saka, Grealish, Johnstone (g/k), D Henderson (g/k).

Booked: Foden.

Croatia: Livakovic; Vrsaljko, Vida, Caleta-Car, Gvardiol; Brozovic (Vlasic, 70), Modric, Kovacic (Pasalic, 85); Kramaric (Brekalo, 70), Perisic, Rebic (Petkovic, 78).

Unused subs: Budimir, Skoric, Badelj, Juranovic, Bradaric, Ivanusec, Sluga (g/k), Kalinic (g/k).

Booked: Caleta-Car, Kovacic, Brozovic.

Referee: Daniele Orsato.

VAR: Massimiliano Irrati.